Arrest Mladic now
by The Times
Confusion reigns in Serbia. There are claims, and counterclaims, that General Ratko Mladić, the former commander of Bosnian Serb forces, is negotiating his surrender. Whatever the truth, the protracted character of the hunt for Mladić demeans his victims and discredits Western policymakers.
Mladić is under indictment by a UN war crimes tribunal for genocide. The charge sheet refers to the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica, to whose victims he had promised sanctuary. Yet Mladić has never wanted for deferential treatment.
Six months after Srebrenica, David Binder, of The New York Times, wrote: ‘I strongly wish to disassociate myself from [an] assessment of the general as a crazed killer.’ On departing as commander of the UN protection force in Bosnia, General Michael Rose gallantly accepted from Mladić (who was ‘at his most charming’) a watercolour painting as a gift. After the Dayton Accords in 1995, US troops failed to arrest Mladić even though their base was only 12 miles from his headquarters; they even announced their visits in advance.
US Administrations are often criticised for not taking international law seriously enough. There is merit in the riposte that Western foreign policy cannot be subordinated to legalistic methods, because the world lacks a supranational authority capable of enforcing legal standards. There were strong arguments for deposing Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War even though UN Security Council resolutions did not authorise it. The US and NATO failure to apprehend Mladić and his political master Radovan Karadžić has, however, shown insouciance about international law by not going after alleged mass murderers.
If, as is rumoured, Mladić is bargaining for a payoff for his family in return for giving himself up, his manoeuvres should be dismissed and the Serb authorities given an ultimatum to seize him forcibly.
The Hague tribunal secured the first ever genocide conviction, that of General Radislav Krstić. By calling ‘ethnic cleansing’ what it really was, the tribunal may have made it more difficult for Western governments to ignore aggressive nationalism. That could only have been accomplished by a juridical route. It is mocked by Mladić’s continued liberty. In Talleyrand’s phrase, this is worse than a crime, it is a blunder.
This comment appeared in The Times (London) , 23 February 2006